I remember getting dressed for work. I was in the bathroom. The TV was on in the bedroom. I remember glancing over and seeing Matt Lauer interviewing someone about an upcoming book. I remember the sound of my hair dryer, drowning out the audio. I remember noticing my husband putting on his shoes, then returning to the task of trying to do something with my hair.
I remember, out of the corner of my eye, seeing my husband look up, and go very still. I remember his words: “holy crap.” I remember turning off the hair dryer and going into the bedroom, looking at the TV and asking, “What?”
I remember it all. Like it was yesterday. I remember the shock and the horror and the devastation. I remember standing motionless in front of the TV for I can’t even imagine how long, watching. Unable to look away. And the thoughts racing through my mind. The questions.
I remember finally pulling myself away, knowing I had to go to work. I remember being in my car, listening to live coverage. I remember when the south tower came down.
And each time I remember, I’m there again, on that day, that day that forever changed us all.
Last weekend I was watching a segment on ESPN about Welles Crowther, a young trader who worked on the 104th floor of the South Tower, a former Junior Firefighter who once played lacrosse and always carried a red bandana with him. It was a signature of his, so to speak, something begun many years before when he was a little boy, and his father gave him his first bandana. He was there that day. He was at work in the South Tower. After the first plane hit, he called his mom to tell her he was OK. Then, after the second plane hit, he turned into a fire fighter again, and started saving lives.
He also died.
But because of him, twelve people lived.
I sat there that Sunday, on the floor of my family room, watching the ESPN segment with tears streaming down my face. My daughter came in. She’s almost 8. She’s just starting to learn about that day. I’ve tried to explain it to her, and she gets that something very bad happened, but it’s still mostly abstract to her. That morning she saw me crying, I think for the very first time. Alarmed, she hurried over, wanting to know what was wrong. But I couldn’t tell her. I couldn’t tell her because I couldn’t talk, because I knew if I tried, I would totally break down. So instead I held up my hand, signaling for her to wait a second. Give me a minute. Let me breathe.
And in that moment, everything flashed, and suddenly it was me who was the little girl, finding my mother crying in front of the TV, and wanting to know why. It was she who lifted the hand, asking me to wait., while on the screen in front of us, grain, black-and-white footage played from ten years before, of a little boy standing in front of his casket, saluting his father for the last time.
That little boy was John-John. His father, of course, was JFK.
Moments both define and transform us. Life goes on. The dust of devastation settles, but the moments stay with us and make us who we are.
I remember that day, I remember it all. And sometimes I live it all over again.
And I always will.